Your dog Boo is a howler. Actually, that’s how he got his name; he sounds like a ghost; you are so clever. Boo likes to howl along with the neighborhood dogs, and he howls when he wants something. It doesn’t ever seem destructive, and you have learned to drain out the sound by now, but are there certain instances when howling can be an issue? And why does Boo howl? Do other dogs howl for other reasons? Can howling be a sign of something negative? You do wonder if you could ever train him to be a little quieter once in a while.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs howl for a variety of reasons. One basic reason is to communicate with other dogs. Boo seems to do this quite often. When he hears one neighborhood dog, he howls back and then your entire block sounds like a chorus of canines. They all seem to be having this interesting conversation together. Like many dog behaviors, howling also relates back to the wolves. Wolves used to howl in order to help a lost pup get back to his pack. They also used to howl to warn rival dogs to stay away from them. Dogs also howl when they want to respond to a high-pitch sound, if they are bored or lonely, or if they want to complain, Since dogs cannot speak, howling serves as a mode for communication for all of these instances and more. But let’s step away from basic science for a moment and hear some interesting legends about howling: In Ireland, it was thought that dogs howled because they heard a pack of ghost hounds that lead their riders on a hunt through the sky for the souls of the dying. And an old Norse legend states that dog howls are a way to communicate to the goddess of love, Freyja. Although you don’t feel that Boo is trying to speak to gods through his howling, it is interesting to think about the various stories and legends that relate to dog howls. It’s also important to recognize that dog howling can be a sign that your dog is injured or has a painful medical condition. If the how seems a little out of the ordinary and your dog is limping or favoring a body part, then you should bring him to the vet to see what the underlying problem actually is. Finally, howling can also be a result of separation anxiety. If Boo immediately starts a howling as soon as you leave for work, he is communicating that he does not want you to go.
Encouraging the Behavior
Howling is another part of Boo’s nature. He uses it to communicate a variety of different needs, and if his ghostly, long, draining sounds are not driving you crazy and seem to fit his usual behavioral pattern, then let him do it. But if his howls get ear-numbing to the point that they are driving you nuts, you may want to lay down a few basic commands to give you some peace of mind. When your dog starts howling say a firm, “No!” and as soon as he stops, offer him up a treat and positive affection. Also, remove your dog from the trigger of the howling, if possible. For example, if Boo is howling because it is evident that he needs to use the bathroom, take him out. If he is howling because he seems to just want your attention, throw him a ball, and so on. Also, if your dog seems to be howling because he is in pain or because he is very old (some dogs do howl due to dementia) you don’t want to be negative with the dog, but you do want to get him help. If you suspect that Boo is howling due to any medical reason, take him to the vet.
Other Solutions and Considerations
As stated above, simple training techniques could diminish some of Boo’s howling if it becomes a nuisance. Also, be aware of howling that is associated with anything medically related. Sometimes a dog will also howl if he is losing his sight or experiencing dementia, unfortunately, these are common characteristics of our senior dog friends. Additionally, if you suspect that Boo howls because of separation anxiety, keep a lookout for signs of destruction as well. Dogs with separation anxiety use howling as one mode of communication but also may exhibit other destructive behaviors such as knocking over the garbage, destroying property, or relieving themselves in the house. If your dog is intensely howling and displaying any of these other behaviors because he doesn't like you to leave, it might be wise to get a trainer involved who can make Boo’s lonely days a bit more comfortable and quiet.
All in all, howling is a basic canine behavior that has been carried down through generations. Boo is howling to communicate with his other furball friends and with you. This vocalization is Boo’s voice, and he doesn't hesitate to use it. Still, only you know how much noise you can deal with, and if Boo’s howls become a problem, set some firm boundaries with some positive reinforcement training. Also be aware of howling that is out of the ordinary and accompanied by other behaviors such as limping or destroying property. In these cases, Boo’s howling could be something more, and you should take them seriously. Looks like Boo is howling for you to play with him; you better get going or he’ll be hounding you for days.